Delaware restaurateurs gather to honor two of Sussex' best
When I sat down to write this week's article, I was surprised to discover that this is my 300th Business of Eating column in the Cape Gazette! For those who keep track, that's approximately a quarter of a million words, each one carefully (often obsessively) chosen, and (I hope) spelled and punctuated correctly.
Populating this page for the past six years has been an adventure and an honor. Together we've watched restaurants open, and we've watched them close. We've followed owners, managers, chefs, cooks, bartenders, brewers and distillers on their journeys. We've celebrated some of the best, and we have mourned the loss of some of the best. The Cape Region enjoys a national reputation in the world of dining - fine and otherwise - and it has been fun keeping track of it all.
So it somehow seems fitting that the topic of this 300th column should be the Delaware Restaurant Association's 15th annual Cornerstone Awards and Restaurateur of the Year Awards, held last Monday at World Café Live in Wilmington. And it's particularly fitting because the winners of both awards are part of our very own Sussex County family of resort restaurants!
More than 400 guests not only applauded the honorees, but also joined the Delaware Restaurant Association in marking its 51st anniversary. Formed in 1965, the trade group promotes, educates and advocates for Delaware's restaurant industry. More than 40,000 people are employed in more than 2,000 Delaware eateries, representing the largest component of Delaware's tourism industry with an annual economic impact of more than $2 billion.
Monday's extravaganza recognized the Restaurateur of the Year and Cornerstone Award recipients for innovation, creativity, excellence in service and commitment to the community. So without further ado, the envelope please: The Restaurateur of the Year Award was presented to two of the hardest-working guys in Rehoboth Beach, Joe Baker and Chris Bisaha of the wildly popular Henlopen City Oyster House. They will soon increase their downtown Rehoboth presence with The Blue Hen, anticipating a spring 2017 opening in the Avenue Hotel.
The coveted Cornerstone Award was presented to none other than Scott Kammerer, CEO of SoDel Concepts' nine (soon to be 10) resort restaurants, and founder of the SoDel Cares charitable foundation. Scott and his dedicated team not only picked up the pieces after the untimely loss of founder Matt Haley in 2014, but through it all they have not only added to their lineup of restaurants; but have also kept over 400 people gainfully employed year-round. That number will surpass 600 when Rehoboth's new Bluecoast Seafood Grill opens in 2017. No small feat here at the beach.
Local eateries, breweries and distillers were well represented at the event, including SoDel Concepts, Bethany Blues, Starboard Raw, Dogfish Head, Mispillion River Brewing, Henlopen City Oyster House, Grandpa (MAC), Crust & Craft and The Starboard, just to name a few.
As you might expect, things got a bit emotional during Scott Kammerer's acceptance speech when he paid tribute to his friend, former Cornerstone Award Winner and SoDel Concepts' founder, Matt Haley. But Senior Advisor Alan Levin said it best: "Certain people are best at certain things. Matt Haley was the only one who could have imagined and created SoDel Concepts. And Scott Kammerer and his team have distinguished themselves by not only keeping it going, but expanding it over and over again."
Delaware Restaurateurs of the Year Joe Baker and Chris Bisaha made a point of bringing their entire Henlopen City Oyster House crew onto the stage to emphasize the fact that none of this could have happened without their loyal employees.
Delaware restaurateurs partied into the night at Monty Montgomery's After Party at Upstairs Live. A certain food/restaurant writer, however, skulked out of the service entrance and hightailed it back down Route 1 to honor that which waits for no man: The Deadline. I was honored to be a part of the event, and even more honored to be able to tell you about it here in the Cape Gazette.